Newfermenters vs. Middle of Nowhere homebrew club duel

In February 2021, five homebrew entries from Newfoundland and Labrador’s Newfermenters and Labrador City’s Middle of Nowhere Homebrew Club were pitted against each other in a homebrew club duel. Middle of Nowhere Homebrew Club emerged the victorious club, winning four out of five of the entries. CHA caught up with Darren Dawe, president of Middle of Nowhere Homebrew Club, about the competition.

CHA: What prompted the homebrew duel? Do your clubs have some deep-seated rivalry or was it just for some good old-fashioned fun?

DD: This competition was meant to be a completely fun competition. A homebrewer friend, Robert Kellar, from Gander, NL, approached me with the idea of a friendly competition between the two clubs, kind of as the battle of Newfoundland and Labrador. So between the both of us, we came up with some ideas. I discussed it with the executive of the Newfermenters and they thought it would be fun, so I sent a formal letter to challenge them to a Duel!

CHA: Which clubs were involved? What’s their history?

DD: The two clubs were the Newfermenters based out of St. John’s, NL, but with members all over the province, and Middle of Nowhere Homebrew Club with members primarily from all over Labrador. Newfermenters recently marked its sixth birthday and as of this writing has about 1700 members, over 500 of whom joined within the last year.

I formed the Middle of Nowhere Homebrew Club back in 2016 to form a local homebrew community in Labrador. The group has grown significantly over the past few years and it is a great resource for new local brewers, where we share equipment, recipes and supplies. 

CHA: Tell me how the homebrew duel was organized. What styles were used? How was each club’s entries decided? How were the final winners decided?

DD: Going into the Duel, I decided to have 5 categories:

  1. 15B: Dry Irish Stout
  2. 21A: American IPA
  3. 5B: Kolsch
  4. 25B: Saison 
  5. 10A: Weissbier

The thought process was to have 5 basic but very different categories. 

Both clubs used a different process to choose their entrants: 

  1. The Newfermenters have a bigger group, so they held a full competition with judges to decide who would represent them. The Newfermenters competition was open to all club members. A panel of judges including a Certified Cicerone (Mike Buhler), a professional winemaker / home brew store manager (Mike Burke from Brewery Lane), a brewery owner (Keith Bartlett from Ninepenny Brewing) and one of the Newfermenters admins (Alex Conrad) chose the beer to enter following BJCP methods. This same pool of judges, with the addition of Raymond Feltham (a BJCP recognized judge and co-owner of Brewcraft in St. John’s) also served as the Newfermenters judges for the final round of MoN vs NF judging. For the second round, Newfermenters swapped the categories between the pairs of judges so that all judges scored beer that they had not encountered previously. Newfermenters organizers used this competition to start getting themselves up to speed with their new installation of Brew Competition Online Entry & Management.
  1. Middle of Nowhere decided their entrants by getting together at the local brewery and having a discussion about each beer entry. We had six members show up and sit around the table and discuss the entrants. We didn’t score them, but instead had a constructive discussion on the beers entered for each category to decide which would give us the best chance of winning. This was a fun afternoon and it worked out. It was a really tough decision in a couple categories.
Judging for the final round. Photo courtesy of Alex Conrad.

CHA: Did the pandemic affect the competition at all? 

Originally the pandemic didn’t seem like it would affect us, but on February 12th, our province went into complete lockdown again due to an increase in the number of cases and the UK variant of COVID-19 being detected in the province. With the final competition scheduled for February 20th, we had to tweak a few things.

The original judging plan was to have two sets of judges, one set in St. John’s and one set in Labrador City. We’d sit together and judge at the same time, with a live feed of the venues streamed somewhere. With the lockdown, this couldn’t happen, so we ended up doing contactless drop off of the beer to the judges houses and gave them a couple days to sit at home and judge the beer. The judges didn’t know who owned the beer, they just knew they had two beers from each category. The Labrador judges submitted their scoresheets to me and the St. John’s judges sent their scoresheets to the Newfermenters executive. We then entered the scores into a shared spreadsheet. 

CHA: Your Irish Stout won the duel for that style. Tell me about the beer. Did you create the recipe? Any tips for making Irish Stout? 

DD: The beer was a very basic Irish stout based off of the BJCP recommendations. The only thing I probably did differently was I added the dark grains with 15 minutes left in the mash to reduce the roastiness a little bit without losing colour.

Recipe

5.75 pounds of Maris Otter

2 pounds of Flaked Barley

1 pound Roasted Barley

4 oz of Black Patent

Mash temp was 149°F for 60 minutes.

2 oz of East Kent Golding hops at the 60 minutes

Fermented with one pack of Nottingham yeast at 15°C for 26 days before I kegged it. 

CHA: Anything else you’d like to add?

DD: It was a fun competition, but hopefully, if it happens again, we will do only one or two categories. Five beers were a lot to manage for our small club in Labrador City.

Cover photo courtesy of Andrew Menchions.

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